For years, our city has been making headlines near and far. Best outdoor city. VW. The Gig and 21st century tech-entrepreneurship. Downtown. Known across the land for this. Or that.
But nooooo one brags about local politics, which lags behind the rest of our superlatives like the last kid at recess. Progressive? Exciting? Intelligent? Like a flat tire.
Yet by the looks of things Monday morning, politics is catching up.
Under clearing skies, Andy Berke and nine city council members were sworn in before a very crowded and cheering house at the Tivoli Theatre.
I counted at least two standing ovations. One lasted nearly 30 seconds. Had there been an open bar or buffet, people would have stayed all afternoon. We got there early, and already people were being ushered upstairs to the balcony.
Black people and white people sat together; students, heads of companies, nonprofit leaders, activists, plainclothes cops, firefighters, grandmothers.
"This is the way it should be,'' one woman said as she walked through the Tivoli doors. "The diversity.''
Each elected official brought family and friends on stage for the big moment. District 3 Councilman Ken Smith had his family, the littlest Smith winning over the crowd with his pacifier and little brown blankie.
Larry Grohn of District 4 invited Mark West, Chattanooga Tea Party head, to join him on stage.
Chris Anderson's partner joined him on stage. Carried the Bible that Anderson, openly gay, would be sworn in on.
"The torch is passed to a new generation,'' former mayor Ron Littlefield said, paraphrasing JFK.
It's not like the morning was Vegas entertainment or something. Half of it was the raise-your-right-hand ceremony.
Yet people still came out of the woodwork. Sure, Berke's people called supporters and reminded them to come. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Five bucks said they would have come anyway.
People are ready for City Hall to behave like a big-thinking, solution-bound, no trickery or back-door hustlin' institution that complements the city around it.
The word I overheard most Monday?
Put those in a pot and boil them -- excited, hopeful, intelligent -- and you have Lots of Big Change.
So don't blow it.
"We've heard more from this administration in the last eight weeks than the previous one in eight years,'' said Sgt. Craig Joel of the Chattanooga Police Deptartment.
See? You've got to remember to communicate. Be honest. Transparent. Open as a hospital gown.
All these people out there supporting and encouraging you? They're stirred up now. Have been for years (call it the Littlefield blowback) and are ready to bring you their own Good Idea.
You've been setting the table for this to happen; the worst thing now would be to shut the door.
"You are city government,'' Berke told the crowd.
Those may be the four most important words so far. Either incredibly prophetic. Or tragically untrue.
Put it this way: In four or eight years, whenever Berke's time comes to an end, what will it take for the ovations to last just as long then? The deep appreciation. The thank-yous.
What will it take for Berke to be more popular on his last day than his first?
"So help me God,'' Berke -- and every other elected official -- swore Monday morning.
We've got to help them, too.
David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...